The Ministry of Nature Protection's Bioresources Management Agency led by Artashes Ziroyan is the agency responsible for making sure the1973 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which Armenia joined in 2009, is adhered to.
Until the summer of 2013, Siranush Muradyan, head of the Agency's Dendropark Management Division, was the person responsible. However, after her death, no individual person was appointed.
Despite Hetq's reports on Armenia's involvement in the illegal trafficking of rare and endangered species, Ziroyan believes that his agency "brilliantly" meets the Convention criteria and "strictly adheres" to the Convention. In this, he also tried to convince Swiss journalist Karl Ammann, who last week came to Armenia to shoot a film about the illegal animal trade.
Ziroyan informed Hetq that what's important to him is the issue of flora and fauna not becoming extinct; the rest, as to who got what or made what money, he doesn't wish to get into, as he's a scientist, a doctoral candidate in biological sciences.
The Bioresources Management Agency chief said that they didn't give permission for the import and export of endangered species, since they "are not from the wild and that's all."
The Swiss journalist remarked that it is within the purview of CITES when discovering the illegal import of endangered animals to confiscate and extradite the animals to their country of origin. Asked if the Bioresources Management Agency is preparing to extradite the bonobos and chimpanzees found in Armenia, Ziroyan said: "Yeah, but what fault is it of ours? We don't have the right — there's no such legal framework. Who am I? I only give a corresponding [piece of] paper based on the CITES [piece of] paper. Let the Ministry of Nature Protection, a state body, the [Ministry of] Internal Affairs, or the police deal with this."
Meanwhile, Article 8 of CITES reads, in part, as follows:
"1. The Parties shall take appropriate measures to enforce the provisions of the present Convention and to prohibit trade in specimens in violation thereof. These shall include measures:
(a) to penalize trade in, or possession of, such specimens, or both; and
(b) to provide for the confiscation or return to the State of export of such specimens."
To the comment that the agency doesn't have a grasp of the obligations it's undertaken through the Convention, since it should have done something about the endangered species imported into the country, Ziroyan said: "No one has appealed to me — how can I appeal? In order for me to appeal, there have to be documents for me to say, 'Based on these documents…' The customs agency has to appeal."
"You already know that there are bonobos and chimpanzees in Jambo Park [in Dzoragbyur, a town in Armenia's Kotayk Province]. Have you checked how they came to be in Armenia? Does [the owner] have permission or not?" asked Karl Ammann.
"No, I don't have the right," replied Ziroyan, adding his agency hasn't seen any documents.
In the Bioresources Management Agency chief's opinion, the Convention is an unnecessary burden for them: because of it, he has to force dendroparks’ tree specialists to deal with CITES; meanwhile, he doesn't get paid for this. He believes signing the Convention was pointless: "We work with inertia," he says. Moreover, according to him, the Convention should protect only the most threatened and endangered animals and that's it.
Karl Ammann remarked that as a result of violating the Convention, Guinea is banned from exporting or importing any type of animal listed on CITES; that is, CITES member countries no longer accept animals from Guinea, which had an economic impact on the country. The same could happen also to Armenia, since the sector is not being controlled. For example, since quite a large amount of fish and caviar is exported from Armenia, if there is a ban on that, it will have a negative impact on Armenia's economy.
"We have committed no violations," Ziroyan repeated, adding that his agency shouldn't be placed in the role of the police; it operates according to CITES procedures.
The Bioresources Management Agency had prepared a spread of fresh fruit for the Swiss journalist and German camera operator visiting its office. Halfway through the conversation, Ziroyan remembered he had a bottle of "delicious Armenian wine" in the fridge, very much trying to persuade us to taste it: "Drink a little bit; it's very good. Drink so you don't write something [bad] about us."
Photo: Artashes Ziroyan